Cruel, compassionate, yet honest. Martin Parr‘s photography looks sarcastically at the most authentic aspects of the consumer society we live in, carefully selecting subjects that embody our most ridiculous and embarrassing traits. His language, transitioning from black and white to saturated colors in the 1970s and later from scene to detail, is provocative and irreverent, sometimes ruthless. It revolves around mass culture, from our relationship with food to tourism. Faced with Parr’s photos, all we can do is laugh at ourselves, a laughter tinged with a slight sense of shame. «What I think about contemporary man is quite depressing,» Martin Parr said during the press conference at Mudec Photo in Milan, which is hosting his personal exhibition from February 9th. «We want to show the best part of ourselves, but the reality is different; mine is just a translation of what I observe in the world.»
«Martin Parr cannot be defined as a reporter but more accurately as a documentary photographer,» explained the photography historian and critic Roberta Valtorta today during a conversation with Parr, adding, «Parr is not someone who tells the unfolding events, but an avid observer of certain things he has chosen as subjects». Short&Sweet exhibition – open until June 30, 2024, and curated by Parr himself with Magnum Photos – highlights Common Sense, the series that made him famous and best illustrates his exploration of a “window-displayed” society enslaved by appearances and conditioned by mass media. In a sense, as Valtorta emphasized, his approach is anthropological, focused on the meticulous observation of people’s leisure time, always in search of the kitsch element. Leisure spaces, beaches, and tourist destinations are the contexts in which Parr immortalizes his subjects. His success lies in the amusing, extremely colorful, and irreverent aspect, as well as in the power of images that look at the codes of advertising and commercial language, «which sells a product with colors, while I,» says Parr, «use bright colors to sell a vision».
Cover: Martin Parr, Common Sense, 1995-1999 © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos